Friday, November 25, 2011

Against obliteration

I'm in the "every sentence sounds kind of stupid" mode of revision on "Unearthed." Some of them may, indeed, be poorly done; as there's no ideal sentence, each is less than ideal; the broader problem is the usual one of voice, of making the narrator sound like one person (who isn't me) rather than like me at various times of day or states of mental with-it-ness. I keep seeing sentences that make me say, "Yeah, that's exactly how I'd write that," which makes me revise to be less-like-me, though, no surprise, that's still me because who else is there to judge how the sentence sounds?

Last night I began All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age, by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly. Is that the same line drawing of a whale that was on the Philbrick Moby-Dick book? Hmm. I started this as a way to pull myself up from the obsessive thoughts of death spurred by Julian Barnes's excellent Nothing to Be Frightened Of. It may be "nothing to be frightened of," but it's also "nothing one wants to obsess over to the point of distraction," so rather than dwelling, in my reading, on my eventual obliteration, I moved on to a book more focused on the bright bonfire of storytelling and not the encircling dark.

The book moves briskly, though the culture its aiming to cure, no longer god-saturated (a process that started hundreds of years ago), isn't the whole picture. Certainly there are plenty of folks who, contra the fallout from the Renaissance and Enlightenment, still see the world as under God's command. Yes, even these "believers," of whatever religious background, approach things more independently and existentially than, say, their 14th-century peers, but they nonetheless inhabit a different reality than these writers. In any case, after an analysis of our current "nihilism," they move into a discussion of how David Foster Wallace both probed this radical uncertainty and succumbed to it. I'm only about 50 pages in.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Revision, first steps; Philbrick's Moby-Dick

How long since I'd read this opening to the draft of my story-in-progress, "Unearthed"? How long ago did I write it? It's wonderfully unfamiliar. It needs work, but there's a lot to work with, as well. Interesting. "My words are cicadas." Hm.

Why Read Moby-Dick?, Nathaniel Philbrick
After reading Philbrick's book, you don't necessarily need to read Melville's novel. I read two-thirds of the book, a few years ago, before running aground on yet another digression in the narrative. Philbrick's book, wildly overpriced at $25 (it's about as long as a good-sized short story), visits many of the book's finest moments, lines I underlined when I made my own foray into the text. There's also interesting material about Melville's pushy relationship with shy Hawthorne. Less good are the attempts to force the book to make statements about the way America is heading toward the catastrophe of the Civil War; these line readings don't seem to fit, and, even if the argument felt more solid, it's clunkily done in this small space, with sudden shifts of intent in a tiny chapter's final paragraph. This seems more like an essay to have run in The Atlantic, and I can't imagine what audience would buy it. But you ought to get it from the library and fly through it.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"Clockworks" posted

I considered—on the advice of some friends—creating a Kindle version of "Clockworks," my "Old Man" prequel that came out in Asimov's this year. But you know what? I feel like I already got paid for it, and at this point, I'm just happy to have more people read it. Better here than on some bit-torrent site that scanned and chopped the Asimov's issue. In addition, making a "cover" for the thing seemed like too much of a hassle.

So: Here's "Clockworks," at your right, clickable as a PDF. Yeah, I turned off the widow and orphan control when formatting it; it was simpler than the other options.

Please let me know what you think. I'm curious as to how many people download it. Today I printed out a pretty-much-completed draft of the next story, the prequel "Unearthed." I've still got a fair bit of work to do on it, but I think those of you who enjoyed the other "Old Man" stories will enjoy this next one at least as much.